Gears of War – Ultimate Edition Review

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Nine years. It has been nine years since the original game appeared, a game put up as the Xbox 360 poster child and the title that for many went on to define the console every bit as much as Halo. Nine years since the phrase emergence holes, locust and eat shit and die was a thing. Nine years is a long time for mechanics to hold up, let alone still be enjoyable. Which makes it all the more impressive that it manages to still thrill, entertain and satisfy.

Of course, a lot has changed in those years, not least three other Gears titles that have expanded on the mechanics and locations of the lore. In light of this the more compact nature of the original title is both a blessing and a curse, a game with a simple plot that equates to get the bomb and make sure it explodes. In between the rule is to shoot everything, chainsaw as much as possible and try not to get blown into little pieces. Taking place in a relatively limited amount of locations the accusation that Gears was always a brown game with splashes of red is not entirely undeserved.

It is certainly not an ugly game, however, and the upgraded visuals show off an art style that can still impress today. While this may not be in the same league as other titles releasing this holiday season the destroyed beauty aesthetic holds up in creating stunning vistas. There are some performance hitches and pop in, most commonly at the start of each act, but these are few and far between and rarely impact the moment to moment running and gunning.

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That moment to moment is still the defining feature of this game and still creates an intense thrill when you find yourself in the middle of a firefight. Coming back to the game highlights the quality of arena design that Epic managed to create, each a little puzzle of cover and tactics where thinking on your feet is as much part of the skill as finding the best place to hole up and fight back.

Added to that the weapons remain outstanding to use. Figuring out how to convey both a feeling of viciousness and weight is an art that the Gears had nailed down from the start. Amplified by the way the locust are eviscerated there is a unique feeling to the arsenal that has rarely been replicated in any other shooter. They sound violent, they look violent and when used they act violently. Combined with outstanding sound design these are weapons that you want to shoot when playing, they provide that all-important feedback loop that makes you want to progress simply to find more reasons to use them.

Which does bring us onto an issue? While the more linear nature of the level design never stood out before progress has not been kind to this particular aspect of the original game. Corridors lead a linear path into  occasionally expanded areas, but the confined spaces can feel too prescriptive during level progression, leaving opportunities to explore limited to simple collectible hunting in amongst the grey and brown hues. There is also a lack of verticality in most of the levels, everything taking place on a mostly horizontal axis in front of the player with the occasional requirement to look upwards.

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There is also a noticeable dip in chapter five where the proliferation of the torque bow, a one hit kill explosive weapon, creates an annoying stop and start rhythm to the combat which previously had been more free-form and explorative in the way it presented itself. This leads to a higher degree of frustration as the peeks out of cover initially used to scope the environment can lead to an instant death and a trudge back to a checkpoint that can be placed before a major firefight that had just been completed.

Which leads to the odd issue of a shooter where nothing is unexpected, everything is in front of the player and few surprises exist. And that is if you are playing it new, having never set foot in the original title on the Xbox 360. Despite this, it provides an adventure that retains all the impact and enjoyment that heralded the influence it retains to this day. Playing through this again shows just how well Epic had crafted a game that relied on a simple premise with an outstanding execution. There are few experiences with a gun that can match the lancer bayonet, which means this old age shooter can still mix it up with the best out there.

Pro’s

Still a well crafted top class shooter

Cons

Some pacing issues

Very linear

Score Xbox One 8/10